“Come to me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30, NKJV)
When Jesus extended this invitation he was speaking to those who were overwhelmed by the religious life. He could have been speaking to stressed-out pastors and ministry leaders I know whose solution to their overwhelming workloads is to work harder. But what if it’s not a matter of working harder but of doing the right work the right way?
Do you find yourself exhausted doing what God wants you to do? Jesus offers you his yoke…
Most people have the wrong idea about yokes. They think of a burdensome wooden harness thrown across the shoulders of some poor animal so it can work. In the ancient world it became a figure of speech for subjugation and slavery; something to be thrown off rather than embraced…
Wait a minute, Mike! How can a pastor or ministry leader possibly find rest by putting on a work tool?
Well the yoke Jesus is talking about is different. The yoke he’s talking about is a certain kind of obedient yet liberating relationship he wants to share with us. The Latin for the word obedience means, “listen”. So to obey is to listen. The heart of any healthy relationship is listening. Obedience is a relationship in which those involved genuinely listen and respond in love. This is the easy yoke Jesus calls us to. It’s listening and love joined in obedient action. It’s more about relationship with Jesus than it is about simply following orders and working hard to please him.
Dallas Willard would say it’s a call to discipleship – to becoming like him by apprenticing in his way of living. This means putting on the yoke Jesus himself wore – the “Father’s yoke”. Becoming like him by entering into the same kind of obedient-listening love relationship he shared with his heavenly Father.
It was in his Father’s yoke that Jesus learned to live within the limitations of his own humanity and his Father’s will. Where his Father did the directing, set his pace and rhythm of his life, and controlled the results of his ministry. And it was in this yoke that Jesus was able to live in his Father’s presence, practice spiritual disciples like silence, solitude and prayer, unhurried himself, paid attention, learned to kept in step with the Spirit, which gave way to speaking the Father’s life-giving words, doing the Father’s miraculous work and experiencing joy.
So are you finding ministry exhausting? Is it stressing you out? Are you just plain ol’ too busy? You’re most likely not living in Jesus’ easy yoke because when you are you won’t push yourself or others. You won’t force things or try to make things happen. You will have margin in your life and ministry.
The stressed out pastor or ministry leader learns how to live a wise yoke-bearing life the same way Jesus did by practicing silence, solitude and prayer in child-like trust, letting him take charge and be in control. This takes time, practice and lots of getting used to so be patient with yourself. This doesn’t happen over night.
In Jesus’ easy yoke the pastor or ministry leader puts aside his or her own projects and takes up God’s projects. Working harder isn’t the solution. You can work too hard. When that happens you don’t leave it to God. Ministry becomes draining.
In the easy yoke you still give your best effort but you don’t trust your best effort. You turn it over to God leaving the results to him. When you fight to take charge the work only becomes more stressful.
In Jesus’ easy yoke you live in his presence, he has your attention, he sets your pace and leads the way. You’re not compulsively busy. You can unhurry yourself. You don’t make things happen. The Spirit initiates you just follow. Instead of pushing you’re pulled along gently by the Spirit. It’s up to you to trust that he knows what work to do and the best way to do it. There’s time for rest. Jesus will give you all the time you need to do the things he wants you to do. ‘Too busy’ is an indication that there are things in your life that did not come from him.
“Only the man who follows the command of Jesus single-mindedly, and unresistingly lets his yoke rest upon him, finds his burden easy, and under its gentle pressure receives the power to persevere in the right way.” ~ Dietrich Bonhoeffer